Spotlight – 8.5

An almost flawless movie that, more significantly, was important. It offered sympathy for victims of abuse and condemnation for the Catholic Church hierarchy, but most resonant for me was the plug for journalism. The Boston Globe reporters knocked on doors, used their contacts, pored through clips and records, went to court and trusted their instincts, sacrificing their private lives for the story – a herculean effort not likely to be duplicated by the internet bloggers that are taking their place. Indeed, the fragility of the investigative Spotlight department was telegraphed at the film’s outset, when the new editor is rumored to be a cost-cutter and we hear Michael Keaton describe his team’s mandate: four people working six months or a year on a closely held story that may or may not pan out. Near the film’s climax when we see the newspapers coming off the press, bundled and sent out in delivery trucks, our sense of nostalgia tempers our excitement: is this film a swan song for the printed paper?

If so, it is a worthy send-off, on a par with All the President’s Men, which famously heralded a golden age of investigative journalism – and the presence of Ben Bradlee Jr. as Spotlight editor further cements the link. The film is careful not to demonize, and by making the “bad guys” human the story, and the tragedy, are made more real. Cardinal Law is given a moment in the sun, and the one molesting priest we see is more confused than evil. The bad lawyers have their good side, and the good lawyer has his bad. Even the press is less than perfect: much is made of the fact that the Globe, and Michael Keaton, sat on this story for many years before the new editor brought it up.

I said “almost” flawless only because I was troubled by a couple otherwise worthy performances. Mark Rufalo, who got lead billing, was wonderful for an hour, but then his performance got too histrionic for me and his yelling too loud (maybe I was just sitting too close to the screen). Liev Schreiber was similarly impressive at the outset, but by the end I found him too diffident for his role as managing editor. Maybe he perfectly channeled Marty Baron, whom I’ve never seen, but he didn’t act like the many editors I have seen – in person and on screen. Conversely, Rachel McAdams was perfect.

(Smoking: The obligatory cigarette was seen about five minutes into the movie, then never again – despite all the “stress” the characters were under. Makes me wonder.)

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